CHICAGO - Cubs co-owner Laura Ricketts insisted she and her siblings are not ducking fans or the media by ditching their question-and-answer session at the Cubs Convention.
"No, I'm here with you," Ricketts said Thursday after a Cubs Charities event in Chicago. "Tom gets exposed to the media a lot.
"It's so funny when people say Tom is trying to duck the media or the fans because he walks the ballpark every single game. He has to be one of the most available owners in the league to our fans, and he'll be walking around at the convention."
Most or all of the four Ricketts siblings who own the Cubs - Laura, Tom, Pete and Todd - have held court at the convention during the first decade of the family's ownership. They gladly accepted the thanks of many Cubs fans at the '17 convention after the 2016 championship.
But that seems like eons ago now. They canceled their convention panel last year amid the Addison Russell controversy, following an offseason lacking in free-agent spending.
This year they'd probably face some of the same questions about the Cubs payroll, not to mention rumors of trading popular third baseman Kris Bryant, or Todd Ricketts' role in the reelection campaign of President Donald Trump. It's easier to just say no.
"I know a lot of people make a big deal of the fact that we don't do our panel, which we really enjoy," Laura Ricketts said. "But we were like the lowest-rated panel. A lot of people come to it, I think, because there's nothing else going on maybe.
"But I told Tom we should just do it anyway next year."
In the meantime, Laura confirmed she and Tom will make a guest appearance Friday night on Ryan Dempster's faux late-night talk show, answering questions from the former pitcher and current Cubs employee.
But whether Dempster will bring the heat remains to be seen. After all, his talk show could be a regular part of Marquee Sports Network programming, and Dempster will be interviewing his bosses. Will a front-office employee ask the owners why the front office isn't spending any money? Tune in or tune out.
Laura said they're looking forward to the appearance, adding "it seems like (fans ask) the same questions every year, largely."
That's partly true. Cubs fans have been asking about bringing back Sammy Sosa and the team not spending enough money since before the Ricketts family bought the Cubs.
First and foremost, most Cubs fans are wondering whether they'll be able to watch the games on TV, as there has been no announcement on a deal between Marquee and some local cable companies, including Comcast.
"I don't think anyone should worry at this point," she said. "There's a lot of moving parts with regards to carriage (fees). Obviously everyone wants to get the best deal they can. We don't want fans to have to pay a lot of money to be able to see the Cubs.
"We just want it to be reasonable. It'll happen. We have some time."
After decades of epic fails by the Wrigleys, Tribune Co. and Sam Zell, the Rickettses took over in 2010 and eventually put in a game plan that succeeded, thanks mostly to the hiring of President Theo Epstein in 2011. When the sale of the team was going through, I asked Tom Ricketts whether the recent owners had done enough to win.
"I really don't have anything critical to say about the Tribune (Co.), obviously," he said. "The fact is the team has won a lot of games over the past few years and that the Tribune certainly gave them enough financial flexibility to put the right team on the field. I think the Tribune worked hard in trying to make us a winner. I think family ownership is going to be a better answer for the team in the long run, but I have nothing critical to say about the Tribune."
Everyone was glad to see Tribune Co. and Zell go, and the Rickettses accomplished what they set out to do. But now they're facing the same skepticism as their predecessors.
Epstein is trying to keep the payroll under the $208 million luxury-tax threshold after the Cubs paid around $7 million in taxes last year. They face more substantial penalties if they exceed the threshold in back-to-back seasons. But with all the new revenue streams created over the last few years with the Wrigley renovation, why shouldn't the Cubs just bust the budget to give them a better chance to win?
"Yeah, we have some new revenue streams, but everything we make goes back into the team," Laura said. "You don't want to be spending it on fees and penalties. You want to be spending it on talent. Also, Theo and (general manager Jed Hoyer) have their own philosophies about talent and how to spend money, and we defer to them. We let them do what they do, and then we put our trust in them. I think they've earned that trust.
"Sure, everybody always wants a bigger budget, whether it's baseball or whatever industry you're in. But it doesn't mean it's going to pay off on the field."
Laura said she was optimistic about 2020 because of the returning talent and new manager David Ross, who she believes will "add an incredible dimension to the clubhouse."
Still, she and her brothers must realize there's a growing disconnect with a fan base that no longer is content with simply contending. She said the family hasn't lost faith in Epstein and Hoyer and understands the concerns.
"We're not coming off a World Series," she said. "Obviously everyone is disappointed about the end of last year. There's no hiding that, no sugarcoating that. But we still have a lot to be excited about, to look forward to."
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